Harvey Weinstein is 'not a harmless old man,' prosecutors say in opening statements

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(CNN) — Prosecutors detailed years of alleged sexual abuse by Harvey Weinstein and said he “is not a harmless old man” during opening statements at his sexual assault and rape trial on Wednesday morning.

“At the end of this trial, the evidence will be clear that the man seated right there is not just a tycoon in Hollywood, he was a rapist, sexually assaulting these women when they refused to comply with his desires and his orders,” said Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast.

Weinstein, the 67-year-old movie mogul, was an imposing figure, both in his Hollywood influence and in his physical stature, Hast said. In court, Weinstein could be seen shaking his head when Hast said he “is not a harmless old man.”

State prosecutors say Weinstein raped a previously unnamed woman in a New York hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performed oral sex on Mimi Haleyi, a production assistant, in 2006 at his Manhattan apartment. He is charged with five felony counts: first-degree rape, third-degree rape, first-degree criminal sexual act and two counts of predatory sexual assault.

Hast named the unidentified woman as Jessica Mann, who met Weinstein at a party when she was 25. He offered her advice for getting ahead in her acting career and claimed he had a leading role for her in a movie, but those were false promises, Hast said.

Instead, he used that power to sexually assault her, and he twice forcibly raped her, Hast said. Mann saw a needle for an erection stimulant in the trash after two of the incidents, Hast said.

“It will be clear throughout this trial, that the defendant knew he was preying on women without experience … these women were pawns, pushed around,” she said.

Weinstein’s defense says they were ‘loving’

Weinstein’s attorneys deny that there was any nonconsensual sexual activity. Their opening statements took aim at the credibility of the women who form the crux of the case against Weinstein and highlighted their messages to him after the alleged assaults took place.

Attorney Damon Cheronis took issue with the prosecution’s version of events with Haleyi.

“That’s not how it went down,” he said.

In addition, Cheronis said that the idea that Weinstein “lured” the women is a “mirage.” He said that Weinstein’s five-year relationship with Mann was consensual and “loving,” and he highlighted one text that Mann sent to Harvey in February 2017.

“I love you, I always do. but I hate feeling like a booty call. :)” she wrote, according to Cheronis.

Mann sent a text to a friend about a recent breakup with a boyfriend that said their relationship “got off on a bad foot when I blew a famous Hollywood producer who could ruin your career,” according to Cheronis.

Cheronis referred to personal notes Mann kept on her phone in which she called Weinstein a “casual boyfriend.”

Several other women who have said Weinstein attacked them also are expected to testify during the trial, including “The Sopranos” actress Annabella Sciorra, who has said Weinstein raped her in the winter of 1993-1994.

Cheronis cast doubt on the credibility of her story, and he said that her friend will testify that Sciorra described having consensual sex with Weinstein. He also showed a PowerPoint slide that highlighted a statement the defense says Sciorra made to police: “I didn’t report it because I didn’t think it was rape.”

Three previously unnamed witnesses

In addition to Sciorra, three “prior bad acts” witnesses are expected to accuse Weinstein of assault, as prosecutors argue his behavior showed a pattern of sexual abuse. These witnesses, who had previously been unnamed, were identified in court as Dawn Dunning, Tarale Wulff and Lauren Young.

The opening statements come more than two years after The New York Times and The New Yorker published stories quoting women who accused Weinstein of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment. The outpouring of allegations that followed helped spark the #MeToo movement that seeks to bring attention to and stop sexual violence.

Weinstein was fired from his namesake company and publicly disgraced. He was arrested and charged in May 2018. Still, the case against him is uncertain and is likely to rise or fall largely on the strength of the women’s testimony.

Of the charges, the counts of predatory sexual assault are the most serious. Weinstein could be sentenced to 10 years to life in prison if convicted.

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